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UncategorizedWhy the Chron is SO wrong about an eviction

Why the Chron is SO wrong about an eviction

Duboce Triangle artist isn’t at fault here, no matter what C.W. Nevus says — and tenants actually have a right to stay in their homes

David Brenkus stands in front of some of his work
David Brenkus stands in front of some of his work

By Tim Redmond

OCTOBER 26, 2015 — David Brenkus is not a bully. He’s a soft-spoken cabinet-maker and experimental photographer who arrived in San Francisco the same year I did, 1981, and has lived for 34 years – quietly, with no problems – in an apartment near Duboce Park.

But the SF Chronicle’s C.W. Nevius has turned him into some sort of a monster who is terrorizing his (wealthy) (tech industry) landlords, who say they are just trying to evict him to make room for a family home.

In the process, Nevius allowed notorious eviction lawyer Andrew Zachs to make a completely inaccurate statement without the dispute – one that ignores the intent of more than three decades of tenant law in this city.

Here’s Zachs:

“It’s this self-entitled expectation that you have this God-given right to live here forever because you came here 30 years ago,” said Andrew Zachs, the Harshawats’ attorney. “That’s not how it works. Renters pay, they stay in a place and when the lease is up, they give it back.”

Untrue, Mr. Zachs.

In San Francisco, when you rent an apartment, you can stay for as long as you continue to pay the rent and abide by the terms of the lease. A tenant does, in fact, have a right to live in a place forever (not given by God but by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and mayor), and can only be evicted for “just cause.”

The fact that your rent is way below “market-rate” is not a just cause. The fact that your landlord could make a lot more money by getting rid of you is not “just cause.”

Oh, and when you buy a residential building in San Francisco that has tenants in it, you get the tenants – with all of their rights – as part of the deal. Don’t want to be a landlord? Don’t buy a building with tenants in it.

So here’s the story that Nevius missed:

Is it any surprise that a tenant is fighting back?
Is it any surprise that a tenant is fighting back?

In 1981, after leaving Brown University and the London School of Economics, Brenkus arrived in SF and moved into a place on Walter Street. He lived with roommates on the third floor; that’s how most of us lived in those days. You got a room in a flat through a roommate referral service, and met new people and figured out a life in the big city.

The first floor unit was occupied by a group of Laotian refugees – between 12 and 25 at various times, Brenkus told me. The rest of the building, including his apartment, “was the United Nations for 20 years,” with people from more than a dozen countries arriving and moving in.

Brenkus gave up academia and instead wound up working as a cabinet-maker and union carpenter. Every piece of furniture, every fixture, the back deck, the bathroom, the kitchen, and most of the walls is in mint condition thanks to the work he did (free) on the place. “One of the reasons the landlord kept my rent low is that I was doing so much to add value to his place,” Brenkus told me.

A friend and sometimes business partner operated an art gallery in Paris, and there, while learning to make frames for classic paintings, he got introduced to the art world.

And after a while, it took over his life. He began taking pictures with an old camera and a wineglass instead of a lens. He bought used equipment and built (with the landlord’s permission) a darkroom in his flat. After badly hurting his back (fixing up the basement of the place) he let carpentry go, and his art became his life.

I am not an art critic, and Nevius and Zachs seem to think that a person is not an artist unless he is on the Internet. But I went and visited Brenkus in his place, and I have to say the work he does is stunning.

Is this art? I don't know, but it looks amazing to me
Is this art? I don’t know, but it looks amazing to me

More important, he’s what San Francisco used to be about. When I got to town, most of the people I knew worked part time at jobs that just payed the rent while they focused on theater, music, poetry, visual art, or politics. There was nothing wrong with the idea that cheap rent subsidized some form of creativity that wasn’t in the mainstream. It’s where the best and most beautiful ideas in the city came from.

The landlord at 53 Walter Street was a family patriarch named Acosta who slowly built up something of a small-scale real-estate empire; at one point he owned 14 buildings in the city. His kids eventually occupied the two units below Brenkus. Everyone got along fine.

Then shortly before he died, Breknus told me, Acosta bet the farm on a development venture in Bayview; he leveraged all of his property in 2008, just before the real-estate bust hit, and wound up losing everything.

His kids fought through a bankruptcy, and in 2013, the bank forced them to sell the Walter St. building. The Harshawat family – Ish, Kavi, Paras, and Roompam – bought it for about $1.3 million, city records show.

That, to say the least, was a huge bargain. The place needs work, but part of the reason it sold so cheap was that it was occupied by long-term tenants.

In San Francisco, when you buy a building, you don’t just get to throw all the occupants out. You are informed by the seller what the existing rents are, and if those numbers don’t pencil out, you can pass on the deal.

In this case, the Acosta family members left, but Breknus stayed.

Nevius portrays the landlords as innocent folks who just want to move their family into a building they own. In a press statement, the family says:

We are not evicting Mr. Brenkus to make a profit on this property, we are simply trying to move our growing family into our home and start a life here. We are well within our legal rights to do so.

The Harshawats purchased the three-story building in Duboce Triangle in 2013 and planned to move their family into the units – the grandparents on the bottom floor and the two brothers and their families on the top two floors.

According to the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, which does some of the best research in the city, the grandparents – Dr. Paras Harshawat and his wife Roopam – run a private psychiatric hospital in Indiana. They have not sold their home in the Midwest, and if they are planning to move to a much smaller place in SF, they haven’t shown any signs of it.

The brother, Kavi Harshawat, took a job with the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, DC eight months ago, according to his LinkedIn profile. Unless he’s about to quit that job, he isn’t about to move into a place in San Francisco.

I left a message for Ish Harshawat, who Brenkus said was the person handling the interaction with him and who is living with his wife, Emma Acker, a curator at the De Young Museum and their newborn daughter in the unit under Brenkus’s. I have not heard back.

But as far as I can tell, this isn’t exactly the case that Nevius described of a poor family just trying to use its own property.

In fact, if the family really was going to move in, Andrew Zachs knows that an Owner Move-In eviction is cheaper, faster, and easier than an Ellis Act case. But in that case, the owners actually have to move in, and make the place their primary residence. And if it turns out they don’t do that, the former tenants can sue for wrongful eviction.

In this case, the Harshawats have chosen to evict Brenkus under the Ellis Act, which is more difficult but doesn’t require anyone to live in his unit.

The Harshawats offered Brenkus money to leave. Nevius says it was $130,000; Brenkus told me it was $80,000. (Also, the rent Nevius reports is wrong; Brenkus pays $365 a month because he splits the $735 a month rent with a roommate.) And the $80,000 offer, he told me, included $26,000 in compensation for the work he did on the place (and if you’ve seen it, as I have, that’s a hugely insulting offer.)

The bottom line is that even at $130,000, after taxes and moving expenses, Brenkus could in no way stay in this city in a place where he can do his work for more than a year or two.

What he wants isn’t money: It’s the right to stay in his home. Which isn’t really that radical a concept.

Again: If you buy a building with a tenant in it, you need to understand that in San Francisco, you can’t just assume that tenant is going to leave.

San Francisco used to be a city where people were into art not for high-end commercial reasons but because that’s just what they do. Brenkus is a symbol of that, a part of the city’s past that the tech boom is destroying.

And if the Harshawat family members don’t understand why tenant activists are so angry, and why they are facing loud doing protest actions, they haven’t been paying attention to this city.



Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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  1. Update: First off your article doesn’t mention the LEGAL reason the Harshawats’ couldn’t do an owner move in eviction: Mr. Brenkus claimed he was disabled and per SF law that would make him a protected tenant. You do not need to be receiving SSI disability to claim disability, a tenant need only make the claim and the landlord has to prove in court the claim isn’t true. Much too risky to put to a SF jury.
    The litegious Mr. Brenkus filed a “hail mary” lawsuit against the Harshawats, claiming that he “owned” a percentage of the property because, due to the “encouragement” of the previous owner, he made a “studio” in the basement of the building and was “promised” a percentage of ownership in the property as payment. None of this was ever recorded or put in writing – just Mr. Brenkus say so. This case was dismissed via Summary Judgement.
    Go to SF Courts online, case #CGC-16-550531 – really, you have to read this crap to believe it.
    Finally the Harshawats still had to file an Unlawful Detainer lawsuit to recover the apartment. #CUD-16-654807 filed on March 3, 2016. (page 3 notes Brenkus’ claim of disability – not one person who has written about this case has asked Brenkus what his disability is.)
    Brenkus turned down $80K and put this family through hell, yet justice prevailed – Brenkus got what he deserved.

  2. This story is dragging on so long……
    If he wasn’t an “artist” and instead was a plumber or restaurant worker or bus driver would this story be given so much attention? I doubt it.
    He doesn’t own the property. He rents. Renters live at the will of the landowner. Been that way for ages and always will be.
    If you make improvements to a rental property and are the renter don’t expect to recoup your costs….because, again…you are not promised any reimbursement as you don’t own the property.
    His relationship with the previous owners who allowed him to do all the additional work on the place is irrelevant. That was then, this is now.
    Wake up to 2016.
    Brenkus is not owed anything. Artist–irrelevant. Previous owner’s promises-irrelevant. Need to accept some responsibility and plan for your retirement—very relevant.

  3. Harshawat family has every logical reason and right to use there property as they please. Breknus, claims he should stay in a highly subsidized apartment because he is an artist and that people like the Harshawat family or “tech” people are some how not as good for the city. The argument of this author is silly. Saying the city needs or that the city is better with Berknus than someone who actually bought the property to live in is dumb. I for one love art and think the city will be just fine and likely to be better with people like the Harshawat family and that Berknus will do just fine in paying market rent in a situation he can afford. It seems that Berknus has lived so long with other people taking care of him that it has become a way of life. If the people or the author believe that Berknus is so deserving they should take him in or pay for him to live beyond his means.

  4. Holy s*** you are just PATHETIC…”minding his own business”??? This f***ing loser protested at the wife’s place of employment, all because this freeloader and his like-minded loser friends think they’re entitled to be sponges into perpetuity.

    While this poor, downtrodden, starving artist was “minding his own business” for the 30+ years he lived there for a mere pittance , maybe just MAYBE he should have been planning and saving. I guarantee this slacker doesn’t have a dime saved towards HIS retirement and is banking on Social Security/rest of society to provide it for him.

  5. Actually, he is quite the scumbag to purposely deny someone full use of the property which they rightfully and legally purchased.

  6. He was living there and it was his home. All he wanted was to live his remaining days doing what he liked. Did he hurt anyone? No.I live in an apartment building and I call my apartment home. I know nothing about your law but to kick someone out who was minding his own business, is wrong.

  7. Except Brenkus keeps referring to the unit he occupies as “his home”. He is either deluded or a liar or both.

  8. The new owners are not profiteers. They live there and they don’t want to be landlords. Ever been a landlord in SF or CA? There are many nightmare renters. Brenkus is a nightmare tenant. Give him what he wants else he shows up at your workplace with his freak friends.

  9. This is not a complicated matter. It is the right of the new owners under state law to terminate tenant occupancy. It is not even a requirement that the new owners move in. Brenkus had a very unusual understanding with the previous owner. That relationship died with the foreclosure sale. Brenkus put all his eggs in this one basket. Never saved for a rainy day and did not seem motivated to earn more than was needed to pay his neat zero rent per month. Seems like what was left went to hats and lattes. Brenkus never grew up as a man.

  10. Right to another persons property. Makes sense, why not. I get to pocket the money, buy other properties and become a landlord myself. Until…well forever. The owner who worked his butt off, paid taxes, fixes the property, keeps it up to code , fields complaints day and night, should just suck it up. Entitlement baby!

  11. Nobody claimed a landord can “simply refuse to renew”….and yet, there’s no such thing as a lifetime guaranteed lease, or ownership rights based on a lease, because within the current laws there are circumstances where owners still have rights….despite your fantasies to the contrary.

  12. Probably shouldn’t go down the morality path when the tenant has been paying a 1981 rent for nearly four decades. Stealing isn’t moral, is it? Shouldn’t he have a pile of money from decades of savings?

  13. “But there is nothing wrong at all with using one’s 1st amendment rights
    to shame any landlord/new property owner for needlessly evicting tenants”

    I suppose that depends upon your definition of “wrong”. You seem to be conflating “legal” with “not wrong”, which makes you morally equivalent to the building’s new owners.

  14. “You lived somewhere for 9 years without buying? That is ridiculous. If
    you want to live somewhere, buy. If you want to stay briefly, then
    rent. It is quite simple. For all real San Franciscans (i.e., homeowners)…”

    Really? My wife was born and raised in SF, and I moved here in ’85, and we rent. Guess we’re not “real San Franciscans”, huh?

    If we wanted to buy here, we’d first have to get jobs working for someone else, so a bank would take us seriously. Then we’d have to somehow save up a couple hundred thousand for a down-payment. That’s more than our combined gross income for the past 5 years. Then we’d have to pay more in property taxes every month than we pay for all of our expenses combined, right now. If buying were the only way someone could be a “real San Franciscan”, that rules out more than half of all people in town, and most of my friends.

    We’ve lived in the same 1-br apartment in the Tender-Nob for the past 19 years; our rent is about $900 a month. Sweet deal, right? And we’re both creative people who earn our living working for ourselves doing creative stuff. Our income is probably lower than Mr. Brenkus’. We contribute to the City’s vibrancy, we’re part of its fabric, yadda, yadda, yadda.

    But you know what? I get that we long-time renters are living on borrowed time. Our building isn’t going to be Ellis Acted, but still — something could happen and we might have to move out. That risk has to be balanced against the amazing deal we’ve been enjoying for so many years now. So I really don’t have much sympathy for Mr. Brenkus. HE knew that he had a sweet deal, that nothing was permanent, and that he should be preparing for the future. He only has himself to blame for not doing so. To expect the new owners to change their plans so that he can prolong his sweet deal is ridiculous.

  15. You’re just willing to accept without questioning the claim that the family who bought it are “two psychiatrists with a practice in Indiana” that aren’t moving to SF anytime soon?

  16. How do you know that “he fixed up the place”? Only because he claims that he did. Does he have documentary evidence to support the claim? I doubt it, or we would see it posted here.

  17. He is not stealing anything. I hope you find yourself in the same situation someday and see how you feel

  18. The man is not a scumbag. Did you not read what he did to fix up the place? He didn’t have to but he did it anyway for free. You sir are a scumbag for your hurtful remarks.

  19. You obviously know nothing about San Francisco rent ordinance law, do you? Exactly when did you arrive? The landlord cannot simply refuse to renew the lease. Read the law. LEARN the law. It’s not going to change because of your unknowledgable comment.

  20. Brenkus told in video interview that his low rent was in part to added RE value “for the work he did on the place”. And now another $26K is ” hugely insulting offer”? I think cashing twice on the same is insulting…$80K for move out is not enough? Well, how about “nothing” now? It might be his home but unless he owns it, there is no law to guarantee it lasts…Ellis act allows the owner to evict, so the say and sherif would come…
    Techies are just scapegoats, there are many finance jobs in the city as well, but they have bought their houses well before…
    rent control is the culprit, otherwise Brenkus would be paying about as much as others and would be able to find other place to rent in SF for his budget…With rent control selected privileged few enjoy unbelievably cheap rent at everybody else expense.
    SF was put on a map by a Gold Rush which was all about free enterprise, capitalism and free market, how come it became so socialist minded where private property right are infringed upon in name of “artists”, which are about anyone who wants to be called that? Since when “artists” are protected class?

  21. Youve probably made this argument many times. Im curious what kind of counter-argument people try to provide. I can’t think of any. This totally nullifies the claim in the article. The law clearly says that if you dont want to be a landlord, and you’ve purchased a building from a landlord, you have ellis act at your disposal.

  22. “Don’t want to be a landlord? Don’t buy a building with tenants in it.”

    Or buy a building with tenants in it, and use one of the few mechanisms available to evict those tenants. One being ellis act, another being owner move in, the third one is a hybrid, made public by that Bernal Heights case.

    Unfortunately, this is a part of the very same law.

    In certain cultures, it’s perfectly normal for a family to stick together. The parents probably wont be able to run their clinic forever, and may actually settle for a smaller place but where weather is much nicer, services are closer, and not to mention being in immediate vicinity of your children in your sunset years…

    The brother may have received a call among the lines of “Hey bro! Surfs up, ditch that cubicle job and haul ass here!”.

    What bothers me is that in the end, this is just another real-estate market, and this family is just another family who bought a property in a market. To have some watchdog group spy on how someone wants to use their property ie. when someone is going to quit and sell their business in order to move in seems pretty disturbing. They seem to be well off enough that they dont need to find renters (like the couple in the movie pacific heights).

    The only greed here it seems to me, happened with the original owners who went bust in a real-estate development deal.

    If someone won the lottery by getting a deal on a property, and having the right family to legally do all these evictions and utilize it, how different is it from someone elses lottery win like paying under $400 to live in San Francisco for 34 years.

    34 years at a subsidized rate, plus a hefty pay-out. Lets say its not 130k, but 80k, the fact is that some money is on the table.

    80k can go a long way…

    Statistically speaking, there are some master tenants left in the city at a similar below market rate. Could be the house next door. All you need is to land another half of such apartment, and live in the city for another 18+ years. Now the problem is if such master tenants hold the extra rooms vacant, or use them to profit / pay zero rent. Are these people greedy? Should they be under some kind of a watch?

  23. Ha-Ha-Ha! Here’s something you don’t get Redmond. It’s someone else’s property and THEY call the shots – not some lying politician.

  24. How disgusting your article and your assessment of the value of his art work… are you an art expert are you an expert of the value of the purported work he did on the building? Why not get an objective independent evaluation of the value to put in this article? Why not verify whether it was $80k or $130k? Why make assumptions and take his word rather than verify? Either way being given that astronomical amount to a renter that drives up rent for everyone else in this city that cost ultimately gets passed on to the rest of us. No as a renter he does not have a God given right to the place he is not the owner and has never been paying the equivalent as if he were the owner. You do not even allow the property owner the right to move into their property! When you say the new property owner got a steal of deal shows a lack of common sense. They will have to pay taxes at 2015 rates while collecting rents at 1982 rates. In addition you stated the place needs work and they are not renting out a portion of it anymore. The numbers do not add up! Rent control and these extortion demand for $80k $130k or whatever do not work. A Board of Supervisors that holds a gun to developers head to demand building a Filipino museum or things like 40% of the project “affordable” housing that is not “affordable” for those that have to work and pay taxes. It is affordable for the welfare entitlement class! The only incentive left after all this is for developers to build for the ultra-wealthy.

    By the way this is from a renter not rich, not tech worker, but yes a Caucasian male who can not afford to buy has to live by the rules gets no hand outs pays the taxes with no breaks. In other words the silent majority that works and foots the bill for everyone else like you.

  25. No, the Ellis Act is for people who flat out do not want to be landlords. I have a two unit building but leave the second unit empty because there is no way in hell I would ever want to be a landlord in SF. One bad tenant and you’re stuck with them for life. No thanks.

  26. $370 a month, his half of the rent, is $4,440 a year. Even if he worked a minimum wage job, it would still be fairly easy to have saved $5K a year and very easily make a down payment on a condo or house. It surprises me that so many people can hit their 50s and have no financial savvy or sense at all.

    That said, I *do* wish the City would charge higher property taxes to people who buy buildings but don’t live in or rent them. There are lots of these phantom buildings floating around.

  27. If Brenkus had bought a house 34 years ago instead of renting this one, he’d have paid off the mortgage and would own an asset worth more than a million dollars. He made a bad decision.

  28. Callilng a longterm renter a squatter is unjust and a misapplication of the word. A squatter does not pay rent.

  29. the bought the house, at a foreclosure auction, as an investment. the head of the family, two psychiatrists with a practice i Indiana are not permanently moving to SF any time soon, not before retirement. It is okay to buy the investment but it is scurrilous to clalim they just want to live there when they live and work in other parts of the country.

    With Ellis Act, they don’t need a reason but I wish Nevius and commenters didn’t diss the guy.

    And, yeah, one does wonder how someone who came to SF in the early eighties didn’t think to buy before now. No one thinks real estate values are going to go down, do they?

    Yet I know many Bay Area residents who just never got around to buying and now are screwed.

    Life is too damned complex.

  30. He should have taken the $80,000. The Ellis Act still trumps the Just Cause Eviction Protections in the SF Rent Control Ordinance.

  31. from the article: ” …What he wants isn’t money: It’s the right to stay in his home. Which isn’t really that radical a concept…”

    the problem is: this is NOT his home. Case closed.

  32. There are interesting, inexpensive downtowns reviving across the country that welcome artistic people being pushed out of SF. Downtown Phoenix is one of them. Apartments for artists at 500 dollars are available.I have one. I lived in San Francisco and New York for 25 years. Tijuana is another inexpensive place. Artistic people need to get creative about where to live. When I lived in San Francisco, in Hayes Valley, around 1980, it was dangerous. That was why it was cheap.

  33. Brenkus needs to leave and he will go. He had over 30 years to buy his own place. It is not 1982 anymore Dave. Go!

  34. Rjqueen, I am truly sorry for what happened to you. As an artist needing space to both live and create sometimes big works, you have an even harder time finding rent controlled spaces. I am committed to working politically to build a lot more below market rate rentals. I hope we, as a city, can initiate programs especially for artists who need live/work spaces at managable prices for the long term.

  35. “It is not great to be forced out of the City, but it is hardly a tragedy to move someplace more affordable and continue to thrive at one’s work and in a new community of neighbors.’

    Here’s the problem: in 2013 I get a call from my landlord informing me that he was raising my rent. I expected this call. After seven years in the place with only modest increases in rent I knew I was paying an under-market-rate of $1950 dollars a month for a 600sqft loft apartment in SOMA that included garage parking and a private balcony. What I did not anticipate was an increase of $1000. Way more than I could afford but comparable at the time to what similar apartments were renting for.

    voltairemistress: during the seven years I lived in that apartment in SOMA the rental prices in SF exploded. There was no just moving “someplace more affordable” – not in the bay area, and not into a place that was comparable in size and or with similar amenities. For me, as an artist living with AIDS and in his mid-fifties, there was no “continuing to thrive at one’s work and in a new community of neighbors” – no, I was pushed out of the City altogether and had to return to Texas. I looked at trying to buy a home but even with 350K-400K there was nothing available in the City.

    And that’s life, I realize, and life ain’t fair – I understand that. But it angers me just a little when people dismiss having one’s life uprooted as a problem with an oh-so-east solution. I only wish it had been.

  36. Could you name a service where you as a customer consider yourself to be “graciously allowed” to buy that service?

  37. Actually I was going to paste a quote from the Nevius piece where I thought she said ‘The idea that this guy is some sort of artist…look for his work on the internet’ but it turns out that was their lawyer saying that. So I retract my accusation. But that’s what made me say it.

  38. If you buy a property with a tenant then you are buying a business not a home. If you want a house that is unencumbered by legal hassled buy a vacant property. If you have a mortgage then you don’t own the property, the bank owns it and they let you live there. In that case you are a tenant to the bank.

  39. So, according to your rationale, a tenant who has been around for multiple years somehow acquires a right to steal the property from the rightful owner. Are you suggesting that all homeowners evict all tenants after one year in order to avoid losing the right to use their property. A tenant who has been using someone’s home for 30 years should not in any way have more rights than a tenant who has been using a landlord’s home for 1 year. Indeed, in this case, the leech/tenant is paying an obscenely low amount (which caused the previous owners the Acostas to have to face foreclosure and leave the City) and should not have any right to stay at all since he is not paying a fair amount for the property.

  40. Renting is a residential, not a commercial, use. Of course if you are not moving into your home for several more years then you are going to rent it out. Mortgages and property taxes have to be paid every month. If I buy 3 houses today; then of course I will rent out at least two of them. However, they are of course my homes; I paid for them and I can choose to live in any one of them at any time. And, NO, a home is NOT the home of a renter who is using it; it is ALWAYS the home of actual homeowner/ landlord. The same goes for renting a car or a bicycle or any other item; that is exactly the definition of renting.

  41. Of course, a homeowner can choose to continue allowing a renter to stay in the homeowner’s home. That is why the lease moves to month-to-month after one year. My point is that every landlord By the way, I am a landlord in San Francisco, Sonoma, and Marin counties and a resident of San Francisco. If I want to move to one of my North Bay homes, then of course I will be able to evict the tenants as long as I give them a month’s notice as I specified in their leases. The situation in the suburbs is much better than in the City, but we can abolish the anti-homeowner, anti-eviction, and rent control laws that drive so many San Franciscans to foreclosure and force so many people to keep their units vacant in the City for fear of these ‘permanent leech tenants’, who drag down this City every day.

  42. Owner move in evictions are very difficult, and almost impossible when a tenant claims to be disabled, or is over the age of 55, or has lived in the unit for ten years. Ellis Acting is this family’s last resort.

  43. You have to go out of the rental business. If you try to rent any unit out again within five years, you must offer it first to the prior tenant and in any case, at the prior rent. My understanding is, going out of the rental business means you have to do it to all your buildings. You can’t Ellis one building, and not Ellis other buildings you own.

    I wish they would change the Ellis laws to cap it at one building per owner–so you couldn’t keep buying buildings, Ellis Act them, kicking people out, then flip them as TIC units–or require you to use it only once on all your buildings. Like a one shot deal.

  44. This kinds of incidents are what brought on Prop I in the Mission District, and the fact that the Supervisors failed to support it when it came before them. If Prop I passes, many fear the idea may spread to other districts, forcing other neighborhoods to demand similar protections and similar plans. That is why we posted the SF Needs a Better Plan petition. To give everyone a chance to tell their story and request support to fight the latest scheme to increase density the entire city while removing neighborhood involvement in the planning decision process. Sign if you like and be sure to comment. All comments are emailed directly to the authorities and are counted as comments for the public record. San Francisco needs a Better Plan:

  45. Could you please name a service that you buy wherin you would refer to yourself as being graciously allowed to be a customer? San Francisco could not exist without a dependable rental market. As a landlord, i know that every landlord would experience business failure if every unit turned over every year… Or anything close to that rate. If you want to make a contribution to this conversation, think like a business person. That is what a landlord is

  46. In his 34 years there he has paid somewhere between $100,000 and $140,000 in rent.

    How the hell is being offered $80,000 or $130,000 to move out of a place an insult?

  47. He went to the London school of economics. If he really wanted to stay he could get a new job and stay.

    It’s not that he wants his cake and eat it to. It simply is he wants to eat someone else cake.

  48. Renting is not always temporary. If you use a home for commercial uses (ie having tenants) you have to realize that it is then a business not a home. It becomes THEIR home for the time they are paying you money. You give up certain rights when you use a property for commercial use and not residential use. If you don’t want to do this don’t rent to people.

  49. Maybe everyone is wrong in this situation. Brenkus should have known better than to think he was secure renting below market value for so long. The buyers should have known better than to buy a house with someone who had been living there for 35 years. If you play with fire you get burned. Anyone who buys a house in San Francisco now is asking for trouble.

  50. That’s a really good point about the disruption at the workplace. It’s a shame that neither CWN nor 48Hills thought it necessary to lay out all the facts and timelines in this case.

    I posted in a couple of other places on this comment section about the lack of distinction between journalism and advocacy, and how both parties are just doing what’s in their own best interest, and that the city has created an environment that incentives this kind of behavior from both parties

  51. I would not but a RC property. I bought mine when it wasn’t (actually, easy to be exempted, and I didn’t have to evict to move in). But I might buy a property that is occupied. Guess it all depends.

  52. Remember though that CWNs article is after the disruption and protests at the wife’s place of employment and other actions. Until then, they seemed to be following the prescribed protocol.

    From what I can gather, this sitation has played out over more than a year. In that time, one of the brothers who intended to move in seems to have given up and taken a job elsewhere. The GPs seeing this have not moved to retire and close shop. Totally understandable on their parts.

    I suppose at this point all is fair. But I wonder – all the calls for Ellis Act reform don’t challenge the basic right to do an Ellis Eviction – they just decry that someone can do it the day after purchasing (usually business-types who want to the flip the property). I totally get the family’s desire to get away from that narrative . However, it may be five years before Mr Bunkus finally moves away.

  53. You mean, give a months cushion for every year of Tenancy? sorta like an employer will give a months (or maybe a weeks worth of) salary for every year of service?

    So, Brenkus would get 34 mths (or 34 weeks) of continued rent. I think having a firm end-date would be more important – for LL & Tenant – than some lump sum or tentative curtain.

    Speaking of which, with a feature like this, I would hope that the only payment req’d would then be the return of his Security Deposit.

  54. I hear ya, but, good luck with that.

    The best that might be expected is that new tenancies will MAYBE have a feature like.

    But most likely the City will keep the Eviction Control portoin of the law, and just allow rents in new leases to be set at will.

  55. “The curator seems like a prig.”

    Ok, so you apparently like to slur people that don’t suit you.

    Other than just making stuff up, what gives you the impression that she’s a “prig”?

  56. Some would say that Brenkus is just trying to keep his long-time home, which he put much sweat-equity into.

    OTOH, he’s quoted as saying he’d move for (more than $80K) and that’s he’s gonna fight them dirty (protests at the wife’s employer, etc); which imputes a bit of malice.

    It IS their property, and they apparently want to make the whole thing their home – for extended family. I feel they have a good point, and Brenkus should recognize they’re being generous (or trying to avoid extended lawyer bills). I feel that otherwise, Brenkus is being given ownership rights that were never conveyed.

  57. I agree with you. In part. The housing ‘crisis’ is caused by several factors – one of which is the rent laws disfavoring renting out; and the supply constrictions from people holding below market units into infinity.

    But really, if we had 150,000 less people in SF now, there’d be a lot less upward pressure.

    That being the case, that wouldn’t stop situations like Brenkus, which really don’t pull their own weight. If things weren’t as they are, after he moved, he might find a place that’s less than $3000/ – they were less than $2000 in ’13.

  58. Normally I would agree with you, but this family courted the press for positive attention and engender public support (as has the tenant). Once they put themselves in the public forum, their claims are open to scrutiny. The fact is the landlords brought their family into it even though they didn’t need to, as you pointed out, because it’s an Ellis Act eviction.

  59. Thats cool. We all get carried away/enthusiastic at times. And our stereotypes function because they are sometimes true.

  60. The only troll here is you. I was trying to have a debate with you, and you chose to respond with insults instead of facts.

  61. Ellis Act is legal. Fair or not is NOT the question. As it’s written into the law, the current owners are doing nothing illegal. Just because you’ve lived there for almost free for 34 years doesn’t mean that that is a guarantee. I would have thought that if you had rent that low for so long that you would have had substantial savings by now but it seems like Brenkus doesn’t have an actual job. I feel like he thought, my rent is so low, I don’t need to get a good paying job. I know that if my rent was less than $800 for 34 years, I’d have a pretty hefty bank account by now.

  62. Funny how you never responded yesterday when I asked you what that case would be.

    You didn’t have an answer then, and I’ll wager you don’t have an answer now.

  63. Then you should go support him and buy some of his work… but where has he been acknowledged as an artist other than in articles about his eviction? He’s a fraud.

    Again, he wouldn’t qualify for artist housing, so the argument that his being an artist has value to this discussion isn’t all that valid. I support the idea of artist certified housing in SF, but that’s something regulated ahead of time. An owner would know that zoning, and would have to qualify too.

  64. Maybe they fell in love with this property, felt it was perfect for them, and decided it was worth the hassle. So what?

  65. Who knows? Better yet, who cares? The Harshawat’s have every right to buy this property and Ellis Act the unit. It’s the law. Nobody owes Brenkus anything.

  66. So it’s zoned for residential with commercial usage . Why not buy a house without people living there? Why even get started with a mess like this?

  67. No one has a right to live in San Francisco. That idea is frankly insane and undermines the bases of our society – home ownership and property rights.

  68. Quite true. Brenkus hates San Francisco so much; he should move to a society that does is not based on home ownership. Perhaps he would be happier in North Korea or Cuba? He does not understand San Francisco or America at all.

  69. You lived somewhere for 9 years without buying? That is ridiculous. If you want to live somewhere, buy. If you want to stay briefly, then rent. It is quite simple. For all real San Franciscans (i.e., homeowners), the quality of life in the City is great except for the rent-controlled leeches who make life hard for homeowners to use and improve their property and their communities.

  70. You have every right to advocate for your philosophy on what the rights of tenants vs. landlords should be, but you should be aware that what you believe should be right may not be the case in San Francisco. This is ultimately a story about a contract dispute, and its not proper journalistic practice to investigate any legal dispute without getting a comment from all parties involved. No matter what, it was not appropriate for CWN to state that this may pays about $300 for a 2 bedroom apartment, if that is not actually true. That’s my philosophy on reporting and that has nothing to do with your philosophy on land ownership.

    That being said, the fact is this property wasn’t/isn’t anyone’s primary residence (except the tenant’s) yet. This family bought a property that the previous owner was using as a business. That business was as a landlord, which means that the landlord has to comply with the lease and all of the city and state laws that regulate that business, what I cannot determine from either article is 1) what does the law require to legally pursue an Ellis Act eviction, and 2) are there allegations or proof that this landlord didn’t meat those requirements.

    The fact is that there is a lot of value at stake for both the landlord and the tenant, so it’s not surprising that this resulted in a dispute. The stakes are high for both parties, and the city hasn’t built an environment where these disputes can be solved outside the legal system. I think its totally fair for Tim to advocate for the tenant as a way of illuminating changes to the existing law and practice that he wants to see. It’s equally fair for CWN to do the same for the landlord. They both have a responsibility to report the situation accurately. I think the moral outrage on both parties is a little ridiculous.The tenant is doing what’s in his best interest, as are the landlords. No one should expect either party to do any differently because this is how the system we live in works (landlord/tenant framework in San Francisco), there’s really no other option for either party looking to get their desired outcome.

  71. Right, but realistically he’s not going to move, especially when he has a really good setup here. I mean, do you know people who move to Europe when they get priced out of SF? Senior citizens, at that? It just seems like a stretch that someone would do that. Although you do hear the stories about Americans retiring to Mexico and such. But there would be citizenship issues, he may have family here, etc. Plus he’s not going to find $350/mo rent, unless he moves to Slovenia or something, and new problems come with that. So I don’t really see your point.

  72. I feel every person on the lower end of the economic ladder deserves an affordable home in San Francisco, one that has stabilized costs over a lifetime. I do.

    I do not believe it needs to be a top floor of a historic Victorian, or another nice unit with a back yard, or whatever. Public housing should be basic, safe, clean, multi-family housing, in large mixed-use projects with government funding. I will pay taxes for that.

    I don’t think we should force individuals (small non-corporate people) to subsidize affordable housing like this in San Francisco.

  73. And they make the paperwork totally impossible. And all it takes is one tenant to challenge it–whether or not it is justified–and every dime in additional rent you’d get, will go to a lawyer to fight it. No, capital improvements is for rich corporations, not for small time owners of small buildings.

  74. If you want a home you can move into then don’t buy a commercial property with tenants. That is just common sense. You are asking for trouble

  75. When the new owners bought the property, the knew that Mr. Brenkus was a tenant. They could have bought a different property without evicting someone.

  76. Because they don’t want to, and don’t have to. And this guy needs a better lawyer so he can realize that if he turns this down on principle, he will be out on his ass anyway, with a fraction of that amount.

  77. No you are wrong. 30 days notice is insufficient and immoral, especially for long term tenants. I support Tenants Rights. A multi-unit rental property is not a single family home, and different laws should apple.

    Lots of local laws go too far, but basic decency is very important with multi-unit properties.

  78. You’re assuming property rights are absolute. They are not and communities all over the world — including SF — recognize this. Tenants do have rights in SF, a key point in Redmond’s article. If you don’t like this you could always move someplace else.

  79. There are cities which have artist zoned housing. He wouldn’t qualify.

    (sorry if this is a repost. disqus weirdness)

  80. No, as long as one month notice is given, it is completely valid and just to ask a tenant to live after the expiration of a one-year lease.

  81. Sorry, there is no ‘other side’ to this story. The renter/ thief/ squatter drove one family from their home and is trying to prevent another family from living in their home.

  82. It is the tenant who is the villain here. He is trying to prevent the homeowners from living in their own home!!

  83. You are right that this squatter should have bought a home if he wanted to be able to live in one place more than a year at a fixed and insanely low price (much less 30 years – what a parasite!). He drove the Acosta family out of their own home. You are wrong about the how to reform the Ellis Act. Every homeowner/ landlord should be able to evict any renter/ tenant for any reason as long as a one month notice is given. San Franciscans have a right to their property, homes, and livelihood.

  84. Rent control, which was meant to be a temporary program and has caused the housing ‘shortage’, needs to be abolished. At a minimum, rent control needs to be means tested so that any renter with rent control has to pay, by law, at least 30% of his income in rent. It is a grave injustice and travesty that the Acostas, an actual San Francisco family, faced foreclosure and bankruptcy because this vermin renter was paying virtually nothing to live on Duboce Park. Brenkus is everything that is wrong with San Francisco. It goes without saying that Brenkus has no real interest in San Francisco or San Franciscans; else he would have actually invested in our City and acquired a home here instead of continuing to take and give nothing to San Francisco.

  85. ‘Payouts’ are extortion against a home’s rightful owner. The cause of the housing shortage is anti-homeowner laws that unjustly limit evictions and fair rents and cause many homeowners to keep their property vacant rather than risks extortionists such as this leech Brenkus.

  86. Let’s be 100% clear. Renting is by definition always temporary. A lease normally lasts for one year and then converts to month-to-month, after which the homeowner may evict the tenant who he is graciously allowing to temporarily rent his home AT ANY TIME as long as a one month notice is given. Also, a renter who is, by definition, occupying another person’s home never, ever has a right to be there. The general rule of thumb is that, if you plan to stay in a metropolitan area for more than 3 years, then you should purchase a home there. If you choose not to purchase a home, then you know that at any time that you can be required to leave the person’s home who you are temporarily renting (that is why it is called renting and not owning). Invading and stealing someone else’s property is not legal, tolerable, or acceptable in any circumstance.

  87. Brenkus feels he’s entitled to a lifetime lease, and WCW stated there are parts of Europe where this may be possible.

  88. because saying that makes you look nice.

    do the math. ellis act means its off the market for 5 years at around $775 a month, that’s $46,000.

    In 2020, even if rents stay flat, the owners can make that moeny back in 9 or 10 months.

  89. If it were me I would take the money and move. On the other hand I would not buy a house that had some tenant living there for 35 years

  90. Ha. Okay. Some cities have certified artist housing…. this guy wouldn’t qualify.

    This guy evoking his artistry is about as valid of a stunt as using a chihuahua as a service dog.

    How was that?

  91. No, it is not even a requirement that they be planning to move in to execute an Ellis Act. That’s why this article makes no sense. The author is either misinformed about the law or attempting to distract readers from the legal reality of the situation.

  92. So you won’t admit that you called them “greedy”, “clever” and “taking advantage of” – but clearly you said it. I’m just wondering if you had a reason, or was it just reflexive pap.

    You do realize that what the Harsharwats are doing (Ellis Act) doesn’t require them to have a family member move in (that’s called a RMI – relative move in). They apparently just want to take their marbles and go home. They suffer penalties and consequences for invoking this. But it does mean he must move.

    As for his “livelihood” – you infer that he makes money from what he does in his apt. But that was contested by his not having sold anything in years. At $365/mth, he could pay for that w/ SS or SSI as his livelihood. That he may not find rent @ $365/ anywhere else in the country is another matter. Though … there’s always Detroit. And he *could* walk away with a sizable nest-egg, if he only would.

  93. I don’t have to admit that. What he’s doing is fully legal, so it’s really just what most people would probably do, instead of give up, you know, their life. I’ve been around SF long enough to know the kinds of things landlords (and tenants, btw) pull. I’m really not someone you’re going to get in an argument with about this, since much seems unclear, but I guess I would have the same question Tim does about the relatives. I think Brenkus is smart enough to wait it out – no harm to anyone in the meantime. If the relatives show up with moving boxes, no one is for the worse, but Brenkus will lose his whole livelihood if he leaves prematurely, which would be a huge mistake if he was being lied to.

  94. Wouldn’t they need to produce the family members (the ones living in Indiana) who are going to move in, for Ellis Act to be relevant? How does it actually work in real life? Does the tenant just take it on faith that the extended family will move in or are they supposed to monitor it or something?

  95. Tell me what makes you think they are “greedy”? Why do you say they are “clever”? And how are they “taking advantage of people”?

    If you were the GPs, would you sit on the doorstep waiting for Bunkus to decide to move?

    If anyone is taking advantage, I would say its Bunkus; $768/ for a 2BR Duboce Tri apt with a full basement besides? Sure, you could say its “tenants rights”, but, really, you’ve got to admit he is taking the advantage.

  96. Why would he move anywhere? I certainly wouldn’t, with that setup. Did you even read the article? The whole thing is about how he’s determined not to move. And what is it about comments-section people where they’re always telling others to move?

  97. Its ‘legal’ to continue to occupy a below-market rental til well into the future, hoping the LL continues to live and accept you and the situation. Is it also right?

    Perhaps you should have saved some of the money that didn’t go to the LL and purchase the security of your own home. Then you would be responsible for your own future.

    Obviously there are some that can’t; many others that won’t. Is subsidizing them all right? Brenkus had Ivy League & Grad school degrees – plus a union job. And he’s been offered a generous sum to take his life elsewhere, by a family that doesn’t appear motivated by greed. We can (and they probably will) continue to argue whether this all is right or not. Tell me what you think – disregarding any legality or laws – what is the RIGHT thing that both sides should do in this situation? I”m curious.

  98. Symbol of SF past or not, I think I’m with Brenkus on this one. The tenant’s rights activists annoy me to no end, but so do greedy landlords who think they’re clever and try to take advantage of people. No, you’re not guaranteed to be able to stay in your place, but I wouldn’t be leaving there until the grandparents were on the front doorstep.

  99. Maybe forcing someone to leave is not right. But forcing someone else to keep renting to them and accepting money worth less than the year before just doesn’t seem right either.

    Contracts are agreements btw two parties. When one party gets to change the rules in their favor constantly – against the wishes of the other – then I don’t find that morally acceptable.

    Hey wait, now that occupancy laws (Kim 2.0) have been expanded, David can move over to your place. Your rent won’t change. And you will only be making – as an aide to one supervisor wrote me: “Having more residents per unit makes our limited housing supply more efficient,” Won’t you please help San Francisco housing be more “efficient”?

  100. Yeah, just like the Harshawats aren’t “required” to let him stay. Funny, everyone gets some choices to make, right?

  101. There are a lot of things you can do in life that are legal but not necessarily the right thing to do. If you are a police officer and you shoot an unarmed suspect running away you might get away with it – juries rarely convict police officers. You still killed someone.

  102. His futile misuse of hashtags cracks me up. For me, perhaps the best part of his anti-tech squawking is his clear ignorance that hashtags have their root in programming and, thus, technology. The fact that the only context he understands is their popularized use within social media products is hilarious and ironic.

  103. Ok, sorry, iirc you can do O&M annually. To do it more often, its still calc’d year over year figures, and they would have to be higher than the regular CPI-based increase, with which you’re then only eligible for the difference.

    Its a lot to time and a lot of work, and then you might not get anywhere near what you’re due.

    When I took the workshop and showed my expenses, was told by the consultant to just forgetaboutit; that it generally only pencils out for a new owner, or a large LL that can fill the skewed categories *which is, generally new mort and bigger prop tx, but also things like Elevator repair and Pest Control). And after all, it was set up when only large bldg. were RCd, so its got that bias in the allowed categories going on. Its not set up for small prop owners. Sorry I can’t be more exact, as I said, its been a while.

    It ins’t easy … I mean, 45 petitions last year!?

  104. I doubt he can articulate an opinion beyond accusing people of being a paid troll. On the upside he seems to have learnt that hashtags don’t work in the comments section.

  105. Its not illegal, and in my opinion in this case not really immoral. I am not sure which system you would like to live under but they all seem pretty dog-eat-dog when put into practice and with the legal system we have in the US, I would suggest this is one of the better places to be. But there is a whole big world out there so pick and choose your poison.

  106. And yet you can’t even cite a single reason why it could be illegal. No one can. People keep saying “they’re not going to live there”, but it doesn’t matter, because it’s an ELLIS ACT.

  107. If you want to argue that what the Harshawats are doing is immoral, fine. But seriously, stop trying to argue that it’s illegal, because it’s not. You’re making yourself look like a fool, just like the author of this article is.

  108. Equal in the eyes of the law means equal rights. Occupying an amazing apartment in the heart of one of the most popular cities in America and paying one tenth of the market rate for rent is not a right.

  109. Except the San Francisco law is overruled by California state law, which says they can do an Ellis Act. This entire “article” is one massive attempt at deflection of the real legal discussion, coupled with an (admittedly sad) human interest story.

  110. I think, from here on, that I can only support extensions to rent control and tenant protections if they come with the compromise of decreased obstacles to private housing construction.

    It’s just too easy for one generation to vote to paint the next one into a corner.

  111. “In San Francisco, when you buy a building, you don’t just get to throw all the occupants out. You are informed by the seller what the existing rents are, and if those numbers don’t pencil out, you can pass on the deal.”

    Or you can execute an Ellis Act, which is exactly what the Harshawats are doing, in which case you *can* get the tenants out. San Francisco law is subservient to California state law.

    Legal discussion over.

  112. Right, sorry not to have been precise.

    The O&M caps are 7% of base rent for small buildings, which could be annual. Larger buildings are 7% every five years.

    Hardship aside, why would O&M be zero if expenses soar?

  113. No, I’m not saying they were just “lucky”. They bought a building they could afford and Ellis’d Berknus’ unit. Nothing wrong with that unless they try and rent it for market rate before five years from the eviction is up.

  114. Rent Ord allows for small bldgs to recoup 100% on Cap Improvements (stretched out over 20 yrs) – IF the renter is not low-income exempted. Then 100% of costs fall to prop owner. There is another method of rent increase – Operating & Maintanance; but it is so cumbersome and slanted (and it only allows a one-time 7% increase to base rent) that its only available to a new purchaser who can include increased mort. & prop tx increases, etc. Just cuz a long term owners utilites quadruple, insurance doubles, and other costs soar is unlikely to get you any O&M increase. Sad but true.

    What could be done, is to have the City cover renters who can’t pay the true costs. And to allow at-CPI increases, and perhaps a bump to those who have had long-term caps on their rents (again, the City should be willing to cover some of this, since, after all, it is their manipulation that got us into this mess to begin with.

    Rent stabilization can work to most everyone’s benefit (LL’s do benefit somewhat from lower turnover). But it has to have an end as well as a beginning. Subsidies should apply if diversity’s desired. But those costs should not be born by individual LLs. If the City benefits from Diversity, then the City should be willing to pay.

  115. The timing would have been perfect. Would have kept a lot of residents – like Supe Malia Cohen, who defaulted in 2010 – in their homes while expanding the BMR program besides.

  116. Yeah, I could care less about the rabid “activist”. Lower sale prices give me a hard on. These ignorants always shoot themselves in the foot.

  117. Imagine if Campos et al had committed to getting foreclosed properties in the hands of the city at a deep discount in 2009, instead of merely grandstanding in 2015. Things could be nontrivially different now.

  118. Meaning, some deals turn out bad.

    The Acostas defaulted. The building was sold by a receiver. If the tenants had been prepared and aggressive, they almost certainly could have stepped in and bought the building.

    A smart thing the city could do would be to fund a program funding tenants to do just that, on condition of deeding the building to the BMR system. Alternately, the city could start bidding at trustee sales itself and adding to its BMR inventory.

  119. IANAL etc, but evicting to withdraw from the rental market, then immediately reentering the rental market via Airbnb, seems an open-and-shut case of wrongful eviction.

  120. Meaning what? His heirs were forced to sell the building at a steep discount? Is this common in bankruptcy sales? Could the price have penciled out with an existing tenant or was the Ellis eviction part of the original plan?

  121. So, can the former tenant sue like one could if it was an OMI eviction? That is what I am unclear of. Seems the new owner here is only breaking the current rules for AirBnB. Which seems to have no penalty at this point.

  122. And the Ellis Act is a law which allows a landlord to evict tenants legally, so if this a legal Ellis Act eviction, what’s your issue? (BTW, you can stuff the game, set, match BS up your piehole since you’re just spouting dribble.)

  123. C’mon, the article itself contains a telling anecdote:

    Then shortly before [the landlord at 53 Walter] died, Brenkus told me, Acosta bet the farm on a development venture in Bayview; he leveraged all of his property in 2008, just before the real-estate bust hit, and wound up losing everything.

  124. The Rent Ordinance allows owners of smaller buildings to recoup 100% of increases in the cost of running the business, 50% for larger buildings. It is unfortunate that Searle resulted in 50%-CPI increases. Rent dynamics aside, that effectively lowers inflation adjusted rents every year. That’s just silly.

    Rent control can work fine, if government builds supply to handle the increased demand created by controlling prices. San Francisco didn’t.

  125. Don’t-be-an-asshole protests either have no effect, or they dissuade virtuous landlords from purchasing. That lower sales prices. Protests in effect subsidize evictions. Is that a good idea?

  126. There is, actually! But it takes a lot of legwork. A former neighbor is in the process of suing some liars like these – got Ellis evicted, but since the purchasers know nothing of the neighborhood, they didn’t know he asked all his friends to watch for activity. Turns out it’s an AirBnB hotel now.

  127. So they were just lucky? If you’re going to ignore the facts of the situation, I’m not going to convince you. You are operating in the Republican “fact free” zone.

  128. or you tenant mooches could buy your own place instead of squatting other people’s property. But that would take hard work and sacrifice wouldn’t it?

  129. Yes yes, forget that thing about everyone being equal in the eyes of the law. Nothing like a greedy randian prick throwing out the foundations of our legal system in order to make a bit more $$$$!

  130. Funny, there are laws against evicting tenants without just cause, dickhead.

    That’s why sleaze balls like these lie, cheat, and rely on tenants not having money for lawyers.

    Game, set, match, you worthless piece of shit.

  131. The problem here is twofold. 1) antiquated rent control laws. Allowing landlords to increase rents by only about 1% a year just doesn’t make great economic sense to keep being a landlord. Whether you own a 2-unit building or a 200-unit building, this is a business. And, what other business models out there do we know of in which the cost of running the business continues to skyrocket (property taxes, utilities, repairs) but you can’t raise your prices to keep pace? Returning the allowable yearly increase to 7% (heck, even 4%) would reduce evictions – and perhaps give some long-time renters an incentive to remember that renting anywhere should not be a lifetime housing plan. 2) San Francisco has been denied a real mayor’s race this year. Had a viable candidate come forward to challenge Ed Lee and debate him on this issues – particularly this one, maybe we’d have some solutions to this ugly situation that is pitting long-time San Franciscans against each other and a campaign that got some of our newer residents interested in local politics and understanding some of the city’s problems.

  132. Knowing the limits of rent control, my wife and I searched for a pre-1979, larger building with multiple units, and we rented a nice unit, but not the lovely rooftop one that a prospective buyer might choose to move into. Still, we save and invest and hope to be ready financially to buy a condo or small house if the owners ever Ellis Act the entire 19 unit building. I think, as a renter in San Francisco, one just has to plan for several possible scenarios: a lifelong tenancy at rent controlled prices is one of those, a good decade or more at rent control prices and then buying or moving to another rent outside the City are some others. It is not great to be forced out of the City, but it is hardly a tragedy to move someplace more affordable and continue to thrive at one’s work and in a new community of neighbors.

    As it is, I don’t think we should place the entire burden of subsidized rents on owners: this story illustrates how much more we need to do via building BMR, government assisted housing, if we want to keep the City a place for working people, artists, and the like. I support that and would pay a lot more in taxes to subsidize building that kind of housing, including lots of places suitable for artists to live and work in.

  133. As an owner, your rights supercede that of your tenants – because you own the building. That’s how it works.

  134. Congrats, you’ve now surpassed Gary as the ugliest poster on here. As a wise man once said, “Lighten up, Francis”

  135. Then why are they insisting they want to have the entire building for their family? They did not do OMI because they were hoping this man would leave, and they could quietly re-rent his place for thousands per month. I’d put money on it.

  136. “In this case, the Harshawats have chosen to evict Brenkus under the
    Ellis Act, which is more difficult but doesn’t require anyone to live in
    his unit.”

  137. “In this case, the Harshawats have chosen to evict Brenkus under the Ellis Act, which is more difficult but doesn’t require anyone to live in his unit.”

  138. If they are moving in, why not use OMI? If they used Ellis, what is this guy planning to do with the 3 units? Is there a way for an evicted tenant (under Ellis) to sue if they learn the apartment is in fact rented again for a higher rate?

  139. Don’t buy in San Francisco if you don’t want to be subject to inheriting tenants.

    See how simple that was, asshole?

  140. That’s a great idea! Totally fair to check in with the VA in DC to see if the brother is really planning to leave his 8 month old job there! Remember – this needs to be his PRIMARY residence for it to be a just cause of eviction.

    And while we’re at it, the VA makes salaries public. I think it’s material to the case as to what means he has to purchase a vacation home in SF, versus evicting someone.

    Don’t want to deal with this shit? Don’t be an asshole.

  141. It’s absolutely appropriate, and the lawyers will do the same if it comes to a lawsuit.

    You act like an asshole in public, prepare for the public to see!

  142. Proof that they’re “liars”? And yeah, if he’s been protesting this eviction the way some people have claimed, I have no problem shitting on him.

  143. Yes Tim. The law is the law. You’re entitled to rent control. You’re entitled eviction only for just cause. And landlords are entitled to the Ellis Act. Those are all laws. You don’t get to pick and choose.

    And all the personal infrormstion you dug up on the family? If they OMI’d the tenant, it would be relevant but they didn’t. You publishing all those details is abhorrent. You should be ashamed of yourself.

  144. So they’ll have a building valued at maybe 2M more with inflated cash flows from the other two units. That’s a pretty sweet deal, even after payouts to the lawyers and the evicted tenant. Had the building been empty they would have needed to pay a lot more.

  145. He doesn’t have to save money. He just has to deposit the check for $80,000 or $130,000 and buy a place almost anywhere in the Bay Area, including parts of SF. Like Hunter’s Point, the Excelsior, etc.

  146. Yes, but. I mean, I agree with everything you wrote here, and I wish there were City programs to allow tenants first right of refusal to put financing together to buy a place, when a home sells, and city programs which supply low cost financing for just these situations. But the fact is, the owners have the right to Ellis Act the building. That’s just the law, unfortunately. They don’t have to pay this man anything other than what is minimally legally required. The fact that they are offering big money at all to make things smoother for this guy–that’s not part of your article is it. The fact that he has a $130,000 or $80,000 offer on the table is not insulting. That’s pretty fair compensation. And if after 30+ years in this City, the word never got to him to buy a place, and that now, he doesn’t have the wherewithal to put that $130,000 down on a place to own, (really? cause, like, by the way, that is an ample downpayment for lots of housing in this very town, not most, but lots) then that is hardly the new owner’s fault.

    Having said all that, this is the exactly the problem with the Ellis Act. We must amend it to prevent people from buying a building only to evict everybody. Owners should have a long term ownership before they are allowed to Ellis Act a building. Like a minimum of five or ten years. That way the Ellis Act will be used by the people it was intended to help: long time landlords who are ready to retire and get out of the business. Not upstart profiteers who want to kick people out, remodel, then turn around and sell the places as TIC units at a profit. Which is what may happen here.

    But say this owner actually does want to move in, and relocate his whole family. Doing an owner move in eviction is not clear cut. That can take years in the courts, and is a long expensive legal process. No wonder he wants to Ellis. Ellis Acting is pretty clear cut. It’s a year’s notice and $5,400 odd bucks of moving expenses. I would do more research into your facts to confirm that the family is not in fact putting all the pieces together before they do in fact move to San Francisco. You dug into some facts and not into others. What this sounds like to me, is a simple buy out, and the carpenter is certainly entitled to a big buy out. He is lucky. Most tenants advocates are against these buyouts on principle.

    I am all for rent controls, and evictions being exclusively just cause. I think tenants deserve stability and affordable rent increases. I think it’s a tragedy for a long term neighbor –he reminds me a lot of myself 30 years ago arriving in this city. But come on: $130,000? And after 34 years, he gets a windfall like that, which could buy him a nice place in a smaller artsy town in the Bay Area like Sebastopol or Napa or Benicia, or a nice work space in Vallejo or even Hunters Point? And where was he back in the 80s and early 90s when they were practically giving away properties in the Mission for a simple signature on a high interest loan? Renting is not owning, people. We should help as many people as possible in this City to own homes, and make sure there is financing and City programs that support that, but….

    Is renting a place the same as ownership? No. And this story is why. At some point, children in school need to take civics and economics lessons to learn the basics. Step 1 to stability: Own a home. Brenkus obviously didn’t take a civics or economics lesson, did he. Too bad.

  147. hey Rag, that’s Spazm to you, ‘k? 😐

    So, they bought a problem property. And they dropped the Nuclear Bomb of real estate. The family doesn’t appear to be Urban Green or other “greedy” speculators. They’re using the law for the purpose it was intended. From what I’ve heard, I fully support them.

    Maybe Brenkus is a good guy, as Tim is trying to say. Or maybe he’s a bully and a jerk, as CWN paints. He’s had a good run, and should call it a day. Keep for himself some of the money the lawyers will otherwise chew up.

  148. I’m vaguely familiar with the ‘hood in those years. My guess is he started around $500/ in ’81. Two yrs of 7% raises, then 4% for the next eight. I seriously doubt he paid above-market at all; but if he did, it quickly dropped below.

    Inflation alone would translate that $500 into $1309 in today’s dollars – and a 2BR at that price in that ‘hood would still be amazing. The $7xx he pays now is laughable. 23 yrs of below-CPI increases have had their effect.

    Walter was a nice block back at that time; Duboce was still a divider, but not what it was 8 yrs previous, when i lived there.

  149. My comment was to indicate that the tenant could take the $80,000 or take the Ellis payout, but it will still mean the family will pay either way – either $80k to David or $80k to Zacks.

  150. The usual troll bullshit from the usual paid troll assholes. Thank God you’re posting to Facebook now – more exposure for this great site, less exposure to the paid trolls.

  151. Mr. Brenkus may be over 62, which requires a year’s notice for eviction. But, also, it is immoral, even if illegal, to force people to leave their homes, if they have been good tenants. Maybe our dog-eat-dog capitalist system needs reviewing

  152. How do you know that the tenant is not a person of means? He went to Brown and to LSE. Expensive schools both.

  153. I am afraid, Tim, that soft-spoken Mr. Brenkus is indeed a bully. He and his eviction cohorts demonstrated twice in front of the De Young Museum, chanting and yelling insults at Emma Acker, an assistant curator at the institution. His cohorts barged into a lecture that Emma, at the time 8 1/2 months pregnant, was giving, advancing towards the stage and yelling about her unborn baby. He and his friends demonstrated for an hour outside the apartment house when Emma Acker was inside with her two-week old baby. I consider these the tactics of a bully.

  154. It really isn’t ethical, but I’m not annoyed. I don’t think he/she/it intended to cause any harm and I more or less expect trolls to not be aware of boundaries,

    And it is a good reminder that I have to change my ID.

    Oh, and it is incorrect.

  155. They knowingly bought a property wth rent-controlled units, did they, Spam? Then they should STFU! What do they want, sympathy? Boo hoo, poor assholes. How’s that?

  156. And I should mention also the previous landlords, who’ve collected from him $300,000 in today’s dollars (assuming the rent followed inflation; maybe only $200,000). His rent alone probably offset, in the long run, what they’d paid for the building. Another cause for gratitude.

  157. Does it matter though?

    Why should someone have to make an emotional appeal, labeling themselves an artist? He’s not Ruth Asawa (….who actually owned her own home, but you get my point) or a city treasure.

  158. If he uses a lawyer. Aren’t there free legal services to negotiate payouts? That seems like a good use for tenant rights groups, at this point.

    How many of these stories end with the tenant winning, and how much of their lives did they lose to fighting it though?

  159. No such thing as a de facto lifetime lease.

    Your lease is for the term you sign it for, renewable upon the terms of your tenancy, in accordance to the governing laws.

    No tenant is entitled to ownership rights, nor should they be.

    I know it’s awful to be without stability, and the effects of having your life uprooted can’t be measured, but that is the nature of a rental.

    Putting new property owners intentions on trial when we can’t possibly know the details is unfair.

  160. They paid a bargain price for the home, $1.1 million, presumably because it had tenants with tenants’ rights.

  161. True. Though many do. As do tenants who brag about how cheap their rent is, when shooting the breeze.

    But in the context of these eviction cases, I NEVER hear a tenant or advocate express gratitude for all the time they were able to enjoy. Its always about how they need to be subsidized for the future.

    Mabye its the fault of the Justice system — never admit guilt. But I don’t think it helps renters in the City maintain psychological equilibrium; which can be of even greater benefit than a rent ‘deal’.

  162. Also, they bought this prop almost 3 yrs ago. Prices have skyrocketed since then. But meanwhile the bldg has been occupied. The bro took his job 8 mths ago – maybe he was tired of waiting for Bunkus to move. The parents might be a bit vague, but even just keeping it for vacations and visits is a valid enuf reason to want to occupy it.

  163. I think Tim is wrong that they coulda used an OMI.

    Specially after the other tenants left. You can’t “move” into a tenant-held unit if there’s another vacancy in the bldg – unless there are extenuating circumstances which this doesn’t sound like (similar size, etc).

    This was a fairly good article (clarity on the actual rent, background on Brenkus). But CWNs quote of him that “they will pay”, and that David would move for more money are telling. Tim shoulda followed up on that.

  164. Landlords who have gathered equity by sitting on their property for decades arenot always touting their gratitude to their luck, either.

  165. With $80,000 going to the lawyer.

    In extended, dramatic situatons like this, it is always the lawyers that win, and those involved who lose.

  166. The allowed increases in those yrs were 7% until ’84 when it dropped to 4% for eight yrs; then the 0,1 or 2% raises that we’ve come to know if not luv.

    I doubt his rent went above mkt. Didn’t the old LL keep his rent low in exchange for sweat equity?

    But yes, inertia can keep someone in place. Generally though, not someone who has recently moved in. Trust me, his rent never went above mkt; and he’s had a long, good run.

    No one ever expresses gratitude for all the time their rent was cheap. I find that … small.

  167. And certainly not all 34 of those years were “below market”

    Only 33 of them. I’m sure he would have moved if the rent was too high (like in Year 2 or Year 3).

  168. He turned down an $80,000 pay out? And if/when he gets evicted by use of the Ellis act he gets $6,000ish?

  169. Maybe that place is also full of long-term tenants. However, if these guys here Ellis the building and turn it into condos, it will be worth easily 1.3m/unit.

  170. If the Ellis Act is immoral, the proper response is to change the law. It’s hard to turn down a cheap guest apartment.

  171. I think it’s totally fair to take issue with CWN’s column. Just for the sake of proper journalism, he should have reached out to the tenant to get the other side of the story. I came away from the Chron column believing certain facts that may not be true. I also think Tim makes a fair point about knowing what you’re getting into in re: buying a property with tenants. If landlords have the right to try and evict, tenants certainly have an equal (and opposite?) right to dispute it. If the man doesn’t want the buyout, he doesn’t have to take it. Housing in San Francisco is highly regulated, and landlords should be prepared to be forced into complying with the law.

    What I wish either Tim or CWN would explain to me is whether or not the Ellis Act eviction looks proper or not. I know 48 Hills is categorically against Ellis Act evictions and advocates against the Ellis Act, but are these landlords actually doing anything illegal or not. With both this piece and the CWN piece, I can’t separate out the journalism from the advocacy.

  172. And the parents? Reaching out to them in a different state to determine whether or not they plan to actually move? Why stop at that? Why not reach out to their employers and ask them if they know if they plan to leave? Its all part of the narrative!

  173. It’s perfectly moral and legal. If I own a multi-unit building and don’t want tenants, I Ellis the unit and keep it off the market.

  174. Fine, so they do, unless the courts say otherwise. But don’t claim the moral high ground for an action just because it happens to be legal.

  175. The owners already had a big story published about them in the Chron, by the sympathetic Nevius, with photos and everything. It’s not like they were dragged out from obscurity.

  176. Either the relatives are moving in or the new owners want the units empty, which they have right to do via the Ellis Act.

  177. They are getting a three-unit building for 1.3 million (in a Duboce Victorian). The building’s worth at least three times the buying price.

    As Tim pointed out, there are reasons to question the story about either the brother or the parents moving in, and Ellising the place makes no sense for moving in relatives. Until I hear something else, I expect it’s just a ruse for sympathy.

  178. I didn’t realize they were looking for a 200% profit. I see a family buying a multi-family home for their family.

  179. Hm? Yeah, that wasn’t the point of giving seasonal vacancies; seasonal/occasional units are in use; they’re not going to be rented. For rent and for sale are separate categories.

    If short term restrictions were enforced, single-host active listings either risk sanction or stay empty. A chunk of the multi-listing hosts, though, probably rent. A reasonable estimate of long-term rentals returned to the market by enforcement is some large fraction of 450 plus some small fraction of 1,250. Call it 750, tops, more likely under 500.

  180. Left in 1994. Lived in the Castro for 9 golden years. There was no security in renting at that point. Had a family. Someone would buy a building- and this was after the incessant flipping that happened in the late 70s when I first moved to SF, and move people out under the guise of their relative moving in. At this point, I know very few people who stayed in SF. The sense of always having to be on the lam and hope that your building would not be sold got ridiculous. The children we raised there all left- had a get together about ten years ago- they were all in their 30s at that point- not one of them lives there anymore. They felt the expense and greed of the city was not worth it. I loved the Bay Area for 23 years- but reading these comments make me feel awful for the people that are still on the lam there. .. the expense is obscene. I am paying 1/3 less for a mortgage than I did for rent in 1994. There is life after San Francisco.

  181. It’s one thing to investigate someone who is actually involved in a public lawsuit, trying to do harm to real harm to someone else, trying to evict them from their home. Quite another thing to stalk someone for merely expressing an opinion on the internet.

  182. The point is, as I see it, that there’s some rich people evicting someone who isn’t, which they don’t need to do but are doing so anyway. “Rich” is not always “tech”, but these days in SF it usually is.

  183. Under California and San Francisco law, no, but there are places (parts of Europe, for example) where tenant rights are not only good for life, but heritable under some circumstances.

    There is no obvious reason why these or other models are so natural that we should talk about entitlement. If the Ellis Act had not been passed, Brenkus could stay.

  184. Right: this Nevius piece is precisely the tit-for-tat described.

    Isn’t there a better housing policy than competing press release?

  185. Umm I used the same tactics AEMP and 48hills uses to get publicly published information. You seem to have no qualms about investigating others… This is a taste of what Prop F will subject SF residents to. Please note that I redacted information.

  186. Is this even legal? I know it’s against Disqus rules. This shit needs to be flagged, deleted, and the user banned.

  187. And the parents run a hospital in the Midwest, and the brother works for the Dept. of Veterans Affairs. If Redmond feels this is somehow, “tech’s fault”, he really should make the connection.

  188. Look ’em up. LinkedIn says Ish harshawat is co-founder of Haysytack TV, Gotolist, and Addy Mobile (whatever those are). Kavi Harshawat worked at Google for two years.

  189. Are you not in fact digging into this man’s personal life by saying he had years to save enough to buy something and he didn’t? What business is that of yours?

  190. If you don’t want to be made into a villian in the press then don’t buy a house with people living there and tell them to leave. Build your own house and no one will bother you. If you evict some harmless person who doesn’t cause any trouble then you are looking for trouble.
    Litigation is bloodless warfare – if this is being litigated I’m sure the opposing counsels will use every tool at their disposal to defeat the other side. If you don’t want your name in the paper or the internet don’t sue anyone and try to not have anyone sue you.

  191. Don’t rent in San Francisco if you don’t want to be subjected to the Ellis Act. See how simple that was?

  192. Fair enough. But there is nothing wrong at all with using one’s 1st amendment rights to shame any landlord/new property owner for needlessly evicting tenants, even if it is their right to do so.

    Furthermore, there is nothing wrong with using every legal means available to thwart an eviction.

  193. While I have issues with the “entitlement” on both sides, I have no problem with investigating landlords/building owners and landlords/building owner doing the same for tenants.

  194. “Brenkus had 34 years of below market rent to save up to OWN something – he chose not too [sic].”

    Brenkus wasn’t required to, and maybe he couldn’t. And certainly not all 34 of those years were “below market”–not that it matters.

  195. I also don’t see any information that the new owners are involved in the tech industry. Where does Tim come up with this stuff?

  196. Never understood why it made sense to calculate the Airbnb stock as a percentage of vacant units. The Airbnb units are discreet and somewhat permanent, the vacant apartment stock changes all the time. It’s not as if the Airbnb stock would be added to the vacancy total if airbnb went away.

    Which made it curious when the Budget Analyst estimated the number of Airbnb units and quickly noted that they comprised 0.8% of the city’s rental stock. So they changed the denominator to vacant apartments, came up with a 27% figure which is, of course, what Campos ran with.

  197. There are around 1,700 Airbnb units in San Francisco that are entire units, recently and frequently booked, and highly available. Around 450 represent multi-listing hosts. This probably brackets the range that Airbnb takes off the long-term market. Call it 500 to 2,000.

    For context, the Census back in the pre-Airbnb 2005 ACS counted around 6,000 vacant units for seasonal, recreational or occasional use.

  198. Profoundly offensive that you took it upon yourself to investigate the owners parents and dig into their personal lives. You have no shame. Leasing is not owning, and no amount of emotional appeals are going to make it so. Brenkus had 34 years of below market rent to save up to OWN something – he chose not too.

  199. “(wealthy) (tech industry) landlords”
    End of story. They should be required to pay Brenkuses rent for the rest of his life

  200. Yeah there is an economic incentive to Airbnb your properties rather than turn them over to a permanent tenant who can stay there forever. Which is why David Chiu (not Campos,not Avalos, not Kim) began working on regulations a few years ago. Now if you weigh in the possibility of eventually getting caught it isn’t doesn’t seem like such a great idea to most people in San Francisco.

    I’m getting tired of people who pick out an anecdote and try to use it as proof of something more widespread. There have been several groups who have taken the mathematical approach. The BOS Budget Analyst, for example, said that their best guess was 1,251 Airbnb units rented out more that 51 nights (14% occupancy), based on data before the Chiu legislation took effect. The Chronicle hired someone to do a study and they put the total in the hundreds.

    Yup. This guy on Quora has 9 unites. Perhaps 15 other people, worldwide, joied in that conversation. That proves that there are many thousands full time Airbnb units in San Francisco.


  201. No, being here 30 years or being an artist does not give you the right to a lifetime tenancy. Just because a building is tenant-occupied does not mean a buyer should “look somewhere else” – the new owners are well within their rights to empty the building via an Ellis Act eviction or an OMI eviction.

    David Brenkus isn’t owed anything, least of all a lifetime tenancy because of his “art”.

  202. Presumably it would go the same way as landlords suing about leases commenced before rent control laws were passed.

  203. When you rent in San Francisco you have to remember there is the Ellis Act, that comes as part of renting, and as the Harshawat’s want the building empty they have every right to invoke it. If Brenkus fights it and wins good for him if not then he leaves. Weather he is an artist and improved or damaged the building or if the Harshawat’s family move in or not has no baring on the Ellis Act.

  204. I’m also tired of hearing about how rental units aren’t really being used exclusively for AirBnB rentals. People are even bragging about it:

    ” I’ve got 9 units I operate in San Francisco and I run them all at 80% occupancy (usually closer to 90% from March – October) and I know from talking to AirBnB employees and other hosts that occupancy rates in bigger cities like NY and Paris can be even better.”


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